The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this is an extremely violent movie with repellent murders and killings that cross the border from self-defense into sadistic revenge. Customary guardian figures (husbands, mothers, fathers) are the first to be slaughtered. Not even director Wes Craven's later, teen-filled "Nightmare on Elm Street" or "Scream" movies strike a nerve like this.
What's the story?
In the desert wastelands, the quarrelsome Carter family, dominated by a retired police officer, are driving their RV to California when an axle breaks. They're stranded in the territory of Jupiter (James Whitmore), a hulking, scarred hermit who was abandoned in the desert as a boy and grew up to be a vicious wild-man, scavenging off the weapons and technology left at a disused military base nearby. He also kills and eats any travelers he can. Jupiter leads a degenerate tribe of his own, since he kidnapped a prostitute long ago for a mate. His brutish sons are also named for planets, but one girl, Ruby (Janus Blythe), is semi-civilized and yearns to escape from her nightmare environment. Jupiter and the brothers attack, rape, and massacre most of the Carters, but Ruby takes pity on the few survivors -- who include an infant that the bestial cannibals want as a morsel. Ruby helps the remaining Carters hide, regroup, and plan their revenge.
Is it any good?
Though many critics initially despised THE HILLS HAVE EYES, it has since been called one of the best horror movies of the 1970s. Scary-movie specialist Wes made this viscerally-violent feature on a low budget, and some horror connoisseurs call it his best. It's a sometimes ghastly -- and a little absurd at times -- shocker that really gets under one's skin. Ultimately the "normal" people strike back with a ferocious bloodlust they didn't know they had, and the question is how much a "civilized" person can be pushed before one becomes a savage. Are the Carters really all that much "better" than Jupiter and his spawn?
There are some borderline-silly moments involving the two Carter hero dogs, a pair of fearlessly loyal German shepherds named Beauty and Beast, who are the first to try to rescue their masters from the marauders, like the Rin-Tin-Tin adventure from hell. But even there the unintentional humor evaporates when one of the canines is killed.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the satirical commentary on families -- who is more dysfunctional here, the squabbling city clan from Cleveland, or the cave-dwellers who prey on them? They can also discuss how much a "civilized" person can be pushed before all aspects of noble behavior drops away and one becomes a savage. They may want to talk about the continued popularity of horror movies -- why are they so appealing to certain audiences, especially teens?